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How to modify favorite recipes for the holidays

Favorite foods are a part of every family’s holiday traditions. While it may seem impossible to combine healthy eating with the holidays, a few small changes in traditional recipes or the holiday menu will lead to a healthy meal everyone can enjoy.

To reduce sodium, important in managing high blood pressure:

  • Use half the amount of cheese called for in recipes.
  • Instead of purchasing prepackaged bread crumbs which are higher in sodium make your own by toasting your own sourdough bread or cutting whole grain bread into cubes and letting it dry out overnight.
  • To stretch your stuffing recipe add sautéed apples, onions, or celery to the recipe. 
  • Use low sodium chicken broth as a base in cooking.
  • Instead of serving green beans topped with a salty sauce, steam fresh green beans and season with oregano, lemon juice, thyme or ground pepper.
  • Opt for a fresh turkey that is not plumped or brined with a sodium solution.
  • Use commercial sodium-free seasoning mixes or make your own using your favorite spices.

To reduce saturated fat, which is one of the major factors in heart disease:

  • Use part-skim evaporated milk instead of cream.
  • Refrigerate meat drippings and remove the hardened fat before making gravy; if you don’t have time to refrigerate the drippings, use a fat separator.
  • Use plain, fat-free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or mayonnaise in dips, salads, and dressings.
  • Bake the stuffing in a casserole dish instead of inside the turkey; add more low-sodium broth for flavor.
  • Sauté vegetables in olive or canola oil instead of butter. 
  • Cook the turkey with the skin on for a moist and flavorful meal, and then remove the skin before eating.
  • Make one-crust pies; less crust means less saturated fat.
  • Use lower-fat versions of common casserole ingredients such as condensed soup, sour cream, and cream cheese.
  • Instead of high-fat cured meats like salami or pepperoni on your appetizer tray, offer roasted (not salted) nuts or vegetables like cherry tomatoes or celery sticks filled with hummus

To reduce added sugar, which contributes to obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes: 

  • Offer a variety of naturally sugar-free beverages:  sparkling water, herbal-flavored ice tea, or fruit-infused water (add sliced strawberries, oranges, or lemon to a large jug of water and refrigerate overnight).
  • Reduce sugar in recipes by one-third. If a recipe calls for one cup of sugar, use 2/3 cup instead.
  • Make smaller cookies and cut pies, cakes and bars into smaller sizes.
  • Serve a beautiful fresh fruit salad and offer grapes, strawberries, melon cubes, or fruit kebabs with sliced banana, kiwi, orange and pineapple chunks as an appetizer

To increase fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that help promote overall good health:

  • Feature vegetables in a starring role by offering lettuce wraps instead of cheese and crackers for appetizers; doubling the number of vegetable side dishes and decreasing side dishes featuring potatoes or bread. 
  • Use pureed beans and shredded or chopped veggies as fillers for dips and spreads.
  • Offer raw vegetables like carrots, jicama, bell peppers and celery with dips instead of chips or crackers.
  • Add extra vegetables to stuffing (chopped carrots, onion, mushrooms, celery).
  • Offer whole grain breads that are higher in fiber.


American Heart Association. Holiday Meals Made Healthy. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Making-Holiday-Traditions-Healthy_UCM_447130_Article.jsp#.Vi_9nLerT9g  Accessed 10-20-15

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